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Voices Of 100%: A Renewable City Coalition Grows in Western Montana

Originally published at ILSR.org

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell talks with Helena Sustainability Coordinator Patrick Judge and Citizens Conservation Commission Member Mark Juedeman. Judge and Juedeman supported Helena as the city committed to 100% renewable energy. In making its commitment, Helena has joined Missoula and Bozeman, building a commanding coalition in western Montana.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Episode Transcript


Driven to Sustainability by Identity

Patrick Judge and Mark Juedeman were both drawn to work around sustainability and climate change because of their backgrounds.

Judge, Helena’s Sustainability Coordinator, was born and raised in Helena. His love for natural amenities and professional interest in the physical sciences drive him to make Helena a cleaner, more sustainable place. Moreover, Judge’s experience working on climate change issues allowed him to identify environmental threats to tourism and agriculture.

Clearly… global climate change is the most pressing issue facing us today on the environmental front, and beyond that, with serious threats to Montana’s quality of life: with the wildfires, and public health implications of that, and drought threatening our largest industries of agriculture and tourism. — Patrick Judge

Similarly, Mark Juedeman’s identity as a Montana native and educational background in geology led him to sustainability work and his role on the Citizens Conservation Commission. From being an early solar power adopter in Louisiana to his experience installing wind at his Montana ranch, Jeudeman’s commitment to Helena’s 100% renewable energy transition is evident in his lived experiences.

Creating Lasting Change, Despite Resistance

Together, Juedeman and Judge have helped Helena advance toward its sustainability goals. 30% of the city’s electricity supply already stems from hydro, wind, and solar energy. By 2030, the City of Helena plans to run on 100% clean electricity community-wide.

Helena’s clean electricity resolution was born from a 2009 Climate Change Action Plan, which drew inspiration from over 40 community recommendations on how to transition Helena to clean energy. More importantly, the 100% clean electricity goal was revitalized by a 2017 citizen conservation board led by Juedeman.

These sustainability efforts, however, have been met with major backlash from local and state officials. In the last five years, Helena has struggled within the confines of:

  • Reduced tax credits for conservation and renewable energy
  • Additional fees on electric vehicles
  • Attacks on net metering and a cap of 50 kilowatts on distributed solar
  • Preemption bills to limit the imposition of carbon taxes by local governments

With resistance coming down from the top, Helena community members have responded with grassroots organizing to broaden community support. The city is also working on its own energy efficiency and has also opted into a Property Assessed Clean Energy loan program, which provides zero-interest loans for improvements to energy efficiency or the installation of solar.

We face tremendous headwinds from the legislature and the executive branch. And so that’s kind of our motivation for doing everything we can at our city level. — Mark Juedeman

Community solar legislation would help make the transition more equitable, says Juedeman, because there is an affordability crisis in Montana and many cannot afford to own their own home. Since there is no state legislation allowing it, Helena has piloted some projects installing solar on affordable housing complexes.

Warily Partnering with Northwestern Energy

Another challenge to achieving Helena’s renewable energy goals? The regional monopoly utility company: Northwestern Energy. Northwestern Energy has a 220 megawatt coal plant that the company plans to operate until 2042, says Judge, along with plans to build a new 175 megawatt gas plant in the future. It will be difficult for Helena to reach its goals if the utility is serving them with electricity from these generation sources.

On the positive side, Northwestern Energy did hold a 2019 stakeholder convening with leaders from cities including Helena, Missoula, and Bozeman to discuss how the utility can serve their communities, says Judge.

We have had many conversations with the utility and, you know, we’re optimistic that we could make some progress. — Patrick Judge

The group became interested in replicating Utah’s 2019 Community Renewable Energy act. However, Northwestern Energy did not think an opt-out model was feasible in Montana. After the stakeholder input, Northwestern Energy is moving forward with an opt-in green tariff program.

Those communities already represent about a quarter of Northwestern’s Montana customer base, and those communities are also some of the fastest growing in the state… We think that’s a powerful, strong collective voice that the utility has to pay attention to. — Mark Juedeman

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 31st episode of our special  Voices of 100%series, and episode 137 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 
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Written By

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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